The National Transportation Safety Board stepped up its campaign against drinking on the railroad yesterday when it suggested strict federal rules to attack alcohol and drug abuse problems in the industry.
Board Chairman Jim Burnett made the recommendations as the Transportation Department's Federal Railroad Administration is considering its first-ever regulation concerning alcohol and drug abuse by railroad employes. Railroads long have had their own prohibitions against drinking while on duty or on call.
The FRA proposal is under review at the Office of Management and Budget, according to Christopher DeMuth, OMB's administrator for information and regulatory affairs, who said "there are a variety of approaches to the issue" and that discussions were being held between OMB and FRA officials. The FRA proposal reportedly would require a train crew member to "certify" that he and other crew members are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they take control of a train, and would provide some penalties for lying.
Burnett called that proposal "a modest step in the right direction," but said, "The safety board believes that railroad safety will be greatly improved only if employes knew that alcohol and drug screening would be performed after all substantive accidents--including those in which crew members survived."
All of the board's recommendations apparently exceed the FRA's draft proposal. The board said the FRA should:
* Prohibit the use of alcohol and drugs by operating employes on duty and for a specified period before duty "with appropriate penalties."
* Require toxicological tests for alcohol or drug use immediately after wrecks involving a fatality or injury, a passenger train, release of hazardous materials, or substantial property damage.
* Develop requirements for full reporting of all alcohol and drug abuse involvement in accidents.
Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole said yesterday that DOT agrees "that the problem deserves immediate attention." She said the department "favors a consensual approach by management and labor," a reference to the substantial influence that railway unions have exerted against some past rule-making efforts.
Burnett said that in 18 cases investigated or still under investigation by the board in which alcohol or drug abuse was involved, "25 railroad employes were killed; another 13 employes were injured and property damage was reportedly in excess of $25 million."